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Windows on Theory
Posted by Rob Knies
Let’s say you’re traveling abroad this summer, planning a trip to Germany perhaps. You’ve got a lot on your itinerary: visits to Munich and Berlin, a cruise down the Rhine, a few tastings of Mosel grapes. It’s all extremely exciting. There’s just one problem.You don’t speak German.That’s OK. Foreign travelers have been braving the translation gap for centuries. But it’s just OK. Negotiating an environment featuring an unfamiliar language is difficult, and for many, a language-related faux pas seems inevitable.Fear no more. Now, with the Bing Translator app for Windows, which became available June 6 in all markets that offer Windows 8, you can translate anywhere within the operating system and start deciphering all those street signs and restaurant menus you’ve been dreading.Once the app, which is free, has been downloaded from the Windows Store, it will appear on the Start screen for easy access, and all you need do is select text from within a Windows app, swipe from the right, and select a Share charm to share the text with Bing Translator and get your translation.“Bringing together powerful technologies from Microsoft Research and Bing, the Bing Translator app for Windows takes advantage of the unique capabilities of Windows to deliver to users a compelling translation experience whether at their desktop or on the go.” said Vikram Dendi, director of product strategy for Microsoft Research. “Customized machine translation that enables online and offline scenarios is combined with world-class augmented reality to bring truly instant translation capabilities, immensely useful when traveling.“At the same time, the app becomes your go-to utility to translate from most modern apps by enabling Bing Translator with share features.”The app, which uses features and functionality unique to Windows and the same technology that powers billions of translations per day from the Bing Translator website, Office, SharePoint, Internet Explorer, Yammer, and many more services from Microsoft, provides a fast, intuitive, natural way to help people understand languages. And it represents the latest advance in an ongoing collaboration between Bing and Microsoft Research.The Bing Translator app for Windows is powered by an impressive statistical machine-translation engine that scales to fit the memory and storage requirements of the device on which it is used. The app is the most recent product of more than a decade of natural language exploration at Microsoft Research.Today’s machine-translation systems invoke “parallel corpora,” modern-day Rosetta Stones that learn transformations of text from existing human translations. These massive language collections are used, along with recent advances in applied statistics and machine learning, to deliver translations of words, phrases, or idiomatic expressions in context for many language pairs and domains.That technique is a successor to the previous machine-translation method, which deployed handcrafted rules to translate between languages. Such work was painstaking and frustrating, and it didn’t scale well.The new model combines the power of statistical analysis and linguistic information to provide better generalizations that lead to more comprehensive translations delivered to developers, partners, webmasters, and users via a variety of flexible web services.That is what the Bing Translator app for Windows provides—in spades. Unlike other online translation services, it can generate translations using textual or camera input, it can provide text-to-speech translation, and it can detect languages automatically. It also supports more than 40 languages—and for French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Simplified Chinese, users can download language packs that can be used offline to gain translation services to and from English when data connections are unavailable or too expensive.As summertime in the Northern Hemisphere swings into high gear, be safe out there. No matter if your wanderlust takes you to Germany or to Greece, to Thailand or to Turkey, rest assured that, with the Bing Translator app for Windows, you’ll be able to avoid ordering schnitzel when you wanted strudel.